The comics of the “Golden Age”: how the Beatles ended up in “Historical Stories” PHOTO

Vintilă Mihăescu and Valentin Tănase, two of the best-known creators of comics in Romania, recalled the existence of the most important magazine for children in the Socialist Republic of Romania, which was edited by the National Council of the Pioneer Organization.

Nicolae Ceaușescu and Ringo Star illustrated in the “Historical Stories” trilogy by Valentin Tănase

“Cutezătorii” magazine rocked the dreams of many “Golden Age” kids, especially those who were not among the privileged ones who had access to “Pif Gadget”. It appeared every Thursday, and the main attraction was the one or two pages of comics, which were read avidly, especially since there was not much else similar on the Romanian market.

The story of the magazine edited by the National Council of the Organization of Pioneers began on September 28, 1967 and ended suddenly on December 21, 1989. But the legend continues. Especially since all the important creators of comic books signed in its pages, addressing all the genres accepted at the time: historical, topical, adventure, comic, detective or science fiction. Among those who published in “Cutezătorii” magazine, being part of the editorial staff, there are also two artists whose names resonate in the big world of contemporary Romanian art: Vintilă Mihăescu and Valentin Tănase.

Both quantity and quality

Born on December 4, 1943, in Caracal, the visual artist Vintilă Mihăescu, recognized both in the country and abroad, for his works of tapestry, painting, graphics, monumental and religious art, was, at the beginning of his career, artistic editor of the magazine “The Braves”. Over the course of a decade, he published numerous comics in the pages of the magazine, the most famous being the series “Brigadier at 14 years old” (1974), based on a script by Nicolae Țic, the series “Columnă în milenii” (1976), drawn together with his wife, Viorela Mihăescu, on a script written by Vasile Mănuceanu, an adaptation of the film “Columna” (1968), directed by Mircea Drăgan, the series “Noile isprăvi ale lui Dan Buzdugan” (1973), on a script made by to Dumitru Almaș, respectively the series “Vaslui 1475” (1975), based on a script written by Vasile Mănuceanu.

Today, Vintilă Mihăescu remembers for “Weekend Adevărul” how he had to drink several liters of coffee a day and spend the nights in the newsroom in order to finish each issue of the magazine on time: “In addition to my usual responsibilities as an art editor, I was also a cartoonist. The external collaborators were not always very punctual, so a good part of the illustrations were done by us, the editorial staff. And the management asked us to adopt different graphic styles for each comic, to give the impression that we are a large collective”.

The illustrator Valentin Tănase was browsing various magazines that he illustrated

Valentin Tănase illustrated various series in the magazine “Cutezătorii”

From reality in “Column in the millennia”

Working on a comic like “Columnă în millenii” was a particularly laborious process, especially since it involved adapting whole sequences from the film into a page with no more than ten boxes. “We were working from the original photographs of the film, which we took from AGERPRES, so that this adaptation would be as believable as possible. In addition to the faces of the actors who played in the film – Ilarion Ciobanu, Florin Piersic, Richard Johnson, Ștefan Ciubotărașu or Antonella Lualdi – I also introduced many colleagues and friends into the story as foreground characters, because I had their photos available and could call on them for the image”said Vintilă Mihăescu.

The series “Columnă în milenii” was reissued ten years ago in the form of an album, but unfortunately not according to the original plates, which have been lost. “I kept a few drawings because I liked them, but I don’t have the whole series anymore. Unfortunately, at that time there was no special care for these plates, which were usually thrown away after the magazine went to press, considering that the job was done and that’s it. The printing house was in a different wing of the House of Sparks than the newsroom, so you didn’t always have time to go and retrieve them,” said the artist, who created in 2023, after several decades of absence, a new comic with a historical subject, with Vlad Țepeș as the protagonist, to participate in the sixth edition of the International Comic Festival History from Brașov: “I missed the comic strip, I have to admit, maybe I’ll relapse”.

High school debut in “Cutezătorii”

We can say with certainty that all young people born in the 80s and 90s held at least once a book illustrated by Valentin Tănase. If they didn’t read the famous volumes of “Historical Stories” written by Dumitru Almaș, published by the Didactic and Pedagogical Publishing House in huge circulations, hundreds of thousands of copies, they certainly couldn’t avoid the Romanian language and literature school textbooks that the artist decorated them with drawn images. But few know that Valentin Tănase published for the first time in the magazine “Cutezătorii” in 1972, when he was still a high school kid, and later, starting in 1980, he was employed as the artistic editor of the publication edited by the National Council of the Pioneer Organization. Among the most important comics he published in the pages of “Cutezătorii” are the series “Burebista” (1980), based on a script by Vlaicu Bârna, “Mircea, donul Țari Românești” (1982), based on a script by Dumitru M. Ion, “Oștenii lui Mihai Viteazul” (1983), based on a screenplay by Dumitru Almaș, respectively “Coloana pără șorău” (1987), the screenplay being written by Nina Stănculescu.

Born on September 6, 1954, in Iași, Valentin Tănase has been the director of the Fine Arts Studio of the Army since 1997 and continues to be extremely active from a professional point of view, his artistic approach being particularly focused on the historical vein. He created numerous mural and mosaic works, as well as imposing works of sculpture, but he never forgot his first love: comics. “As a child and teenager, I wanted and dreamed of being a comic book artist when I was an adult. I was reading the magazines of the time, “Cravata romăsi”, “Luminița”, “Arici Pogonici”, and later I also discovered “Pif”, edited by the French Communist Party, which also entered our country thanks to the relationship between Georges Marchais and Nicolae Ceaușescu. But few magazines were brought, which were only handed out, so you had to seriously struggle to get hold of one. After graduating from the Bucharest National University of Arts, as head of promotion, I knocked on the door of the editorial office of the “Cutezătorii” magazine, where I had also published as a high school student, so since 1980 I have constantly published comics. And after 1990 I collaborated with most of the published children’s publications, but unfortunately they had an ephemeral existence. In parallel, I also published abroad, especially in France and Belgium. Even if I have been occupied in the last decades by works of painting or sculpture, comics have been and remain one of my soul passions”confesses Valentin Tănase for “Weekend Adevărul”, who is currently working on an album dedicated to Stephen the Great.

Romanian language textbook illustrated by Valentin Tănase

Romanian language textbook illustrated by Valentin Tănase

The Beatles in “Historical Stories”

A big fan of the legendary band The Beatles, Valentin Tănase used to “slip” the four British artists, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, as characters both in comic strips and book illustrations which he achieved during the communist period. “Whenever I had the opportunity, I also drew the Beatles. I also did it in “Cutezătorii”, but also in the illustrations from the “Povestiri istorice” trilogy, on which I worked together with the historian Dumitru Almaș. And the funny part is that even though there were many censorship filters on these publications, no one ever got caught. Not even when I drew Ringo Starr as a worker, behind Nicolae Ceaușescu!”the artist recalls, amused.

In the pages of “Cutezătorii” magazine, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were introduced among the actors of the action of the science-fiction cartoon series “Encounter in Space”, published in 1980, based on a script by Horia Aramă. “The subject was the first human landing on the planet Mars, then estimated to happen in 2010. Later reality disproved this overly optimistic anticipation, but the landmarks suggested in the visual story remain valid today. I had, at only 26 years old, the chance and the honor to relaunch, together with Horia Aramă, the science-fiction genre in Romanian comics, then in a cone of shadow during the last decade of communism, because it was an artistic category considered potentially subversive. The immediate success with the young audience led the management of the editorial office to ask me to continue the story with two more series. Among the sources of inspiration for the series, quite precarious in that era, were images from the first series of the film “Star Wars” by George Lucas, also inspired by comics, but also the graphic works of some masters of comics European: Jean Giraud – «Moebius», Jean Claude Mezieres, Paul Gillon, Raymond Poivet“, said Valentin Tănase.

The release, after 32 years, of the album “Andro si Gera”

Thanks to the efforts of the collector Lucian C. Oancea, who discovered several dozen unsold copies in a provincial printing house, Valentin Tănase was finally able to officially launch his album “Andro și Gera”, published in 1991. “The story of this album began at the end of the 80s, when I received from RECOP, the advertising and publicity company belonging to the National Union of Consumer Cooperation, the proposal to make this album. I was attracted by the script written by Stelu Petre, which told the story of a primordial couple from the Stone Age, Andro and Gera, who, accompanied by the dog Fors and the monkey Senta, make an initiatory journey through unknown lands, crossing temporal and climatic barriers, without lose faith and hope in the future of their path to the light. Because they were publishing everything under the JECO logo – Collective Educational Games – I also created some games in addition to the comic itself. Speaking of our heroine, I remember that when I presented the plates for approval, one of the artists who were part of the commission, a good graphic designer by the way, said: «She’s too low-cut! It’s a children’s publication, we can’t do something like that…”. And the project was no longer materialized in this formula, because by the time we reached the “good form” the regime had failed. Shortly after the Revolution, a private entrepreneur appeared who was willing to finance the publication himself. I agreed, of course, we had even discussed a possible continuation of the story. He printed part of the print run, and later sent me a few stacks of magazines as well. After which the “businessman” disappeared “in the fog”. And without paying me! Basically, even to this day I don’t know what happened to him. Because of this, I didn’t even release the album then, in 1991, but I didn’t continue the story either“, Valentin Tănase recalled the incident, who also revealed what his sources of inspiration were when he conceived the characters: “Even though they are people from the dawn of humanity, the two protagonists have appearances adapted to modern tastes. Andro is a kind of Tarzan, well-built, who also brings a little with Rahan, and Gera, a young woman with contemporary sex-appeal is inspired by the actress Raquel Welch, who played in the 70s in a film, «Loana» or «One Million Years BC», in the original».